Have you ever wondered how your dog spends his or her day home alone while you’re at work?
Well, two leading experts on canine behavior have revealed the sad—and surprising—truth: many dogs succumb to bouts of extreme panic and separation anxiety, leading to a variety of adverse activity.
“The separation reaction is displayed soon after the departure of the owner,” says Alice Potter, an RSPCA pet scientist, “normally commencing within 30 minutes, and often within the first few minutes.”
Wild and erratic behavior by your dog often ensues, including but not limited to:
- vocalisations (howling, barking, and whining)
- excessive salivation
- redundant behavior
A degree of behavioral conditioning can increase your pet’s stress, including certain cues it has grown accustomed to indicating you are leaving for work. These cues can include the sound of you grabbing your keys, putting on your shoes, or grabbing your coat.
“To some dogs these ‘cues’ will be a predictor that something bad is about to happen and will cause them to become anxious,” said Dr. Emily Blackwell, an animal behavior expert from the University of Bristol, “For these dogs, within 10 minutes of the owner leaving they will tend to show signs of anxiety which might include pacing about, whining, howling, or scratching at the door.”
To make matters worse, although some dogs will calm down after a few minutes, others could spend hours in panic, in some cases not relaxing until the owner returns at the end of the work day.
“Dogs with separation problems tend not to settle for long periods at all, even when the owner is out for several hours,” said Blackwell, “Typically they spend less than a minute resting before getting up and moving again, so their rest is very disturbed and the dogs can often be tired when the owner returns home and only settle down to sleep at that point.”
However, as obvious as some of the signs of separation anxiety may be, it could be difficult to diagnose it without further investigation.
According to Potter, it’s a good idea to leave a camera running in your home when you’re away to capture any of your pet’s disruptive behavior and confirm his/her condition.
Prior research from the University of Bristol shows that pedigree dogs, retrievers, and Labradors tend to suffer most from SRB.
“As far as dogs with separation problems are concerned,” said Blackwell, “that seems to be a peak in prevalence of this disorder at around two years of age, but dogs of any age can suffer.”
Thankfully, there are some recommended steps you can take to aid your pet in overcoming their separation anxiety.
‘It’s important not to punish your dog if he has gone to the toilet or being destructive whilst you are out as likely to make him feel more anxious about being left alone and can damage your relationship,” said Potter.
“Your dog will be more likely to relax when left alone if they’ve been fed and exercised beforehand.”